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Friday, August 19, 2011

Fit to Write - A Personal Journey

This time last year I was a mess. 

My dream job had begun to unravel as the organisation I worked for as a senior executive went through an organisational restructure. I was working long hours, dealing with some difficult issues,  what little exercise I did was getting pushed to the back burner and my diet seemed to largely consist of Board room sandwiches and take away. My weight climbed up over the 80kg mark for the first time ever which on a 162cm frame was not a good look! I was going to bed exhausted, sleeping badly and waking up just as exhausted. In short I was stressed, overweight and miserable. 

My father had died earlier in the year and in retrospect I was still dealing with his loss - I simply hadn't acknowledged my need to grieve. I was also frustrated because that five minutes I grabbed on a Saturday afternoon to write was just not enough time to produce anything of any worth. So add 'creatively stifled' to the mixing pot and I was going nowhere fast.

You know things aren't going right when you feel nauseous just driving into the car park in the morning and you tear up just looking at a white board!

Something had to be done or I was heading for the ubiquitous "burnout". Early in September I attended a conference at which the motivational speaker was Matt Church. Every conference has a motivational speaker these days but Matt Church brought a different perspective. He talked about the chemistry of the body and how it affects your working life. He described "Adrenalin Junkies" and as he spoke I could hear the voice in my head..."He's talking about you". To paraphrase him, our bodies give us effectively 3 hours of adrenalin a day and if you are an adrenalin junkie (and I ticked all the boxes), you've burnt it off by 11am. After that cortisol kicks in which, while giving you the same energy level, has the physical effect of thickening the blood. When you stop, "it's like being hit by a Mack truck" affects your sleep, causes weight gain...etc.  

How to deal with the problem? Seratonin - it takes at least 3 weeks to begin to replace your seratonin levels. I couldn't change the work situation but I could change me - diet and exercise needed serious re-evaluation. So I signed up to Michelle Bridges 12WBT program. This is not a quick fix weight loss program; it is careful eating and a minimum of 6 days of exercise. I began to use the gym at work in a quiet hour in the afternoon if I could grab one, I changed into my exercise gear before I left work thus ensuring I made it to my Step Into Life classes or simply worked on Michelle's "Learning to Run" Program.

Then in November my employer and I parted ways. It was one of those unpleasant Friday afternoon discussions that come from left field. Yes, I was devastated but at the same time exhilarated. I felt as if I had been set free. As a measure of how stressed I had been, it took at least two months to begin to feel as if I had achieved some sort of equilibrium again. In that time I had lost 8kg and I was exercising every day. In May this year I ran my first 5km "Fun Run" (not two words I have ever put together!) in 37 minutes.

I now write full time. I sit at a desk from 9 to 5 talking to imaginary people, which after my recent work experience, certainly beats talking to real ones! But you have to be fit to write. It is an occupation that demands as much attention to your physical well being as any other job. I'm at an age where bits of me are starting to wear out but that is all the more reason to exercise.

Exercise is now a vital part of my life, if I miss a day then I know it. I still need to lose more weight but at least that is not down to Board room sandwiches any more! The fact is I like a glass of wine in the evening and good food and I'm at an age where the metabolism doesn't function quite the way it used to but at least I don't FEEL overweight any more.

So where am I going with this? Some advice for being "Fit to Write" 

  • Make exercise part of your day - whether it is going for a walk, yoga or anything. Start setting yourself goals. You do it with your it with exercise. "Today I will walk one street further" or (as happened to me) "In May I will participate in a Fun Run". It is easy for me to say this and I can hear the excuses (I know them all...believe me) but you can do it. Not exercising is a habit. It takes 21 days to make a new habit. If I could do it, you can too. 
  • Watch your diet. I know chocolate is a compulsory part of any writer's life, but make it a treat, not a part of the daily food group.
  • Get up out of that chair at least once ever hour and do something different for 5 minutes.
I know many of you are not just writing, but also balancing employment and families. Nothing changes what I've said above. I did can too! When I started running, I could barely make one minute before feeling as I was about to have a coronary, now I can run 3kms without stopping (OK...I will never be a marathon runner but this is about you...not what others can do!).

In summary: Listen to your body, cultivate a "whole of body awareness" and set yourself goals, even if they are "baby steps". Striving to achieve a goal is better than just sitting back and letting life happen to you.

Any more tips to allow us to be "Fit to Write"?

Alison after the Run for Kids - still smiling!

(PS Another great reference that resonated with me  is the "Strong Women Stay Young" concept. See the website at )


  1. Hi Alison

    Thanks for sharing your story. It's very motivating. I try to swap the chair for the exercise bike every day, but seeing you in that "Run For Kids" T-shirt makes me feel guilty. Must. Get. More. Active!

  2. Congratulations on your achievements Alison!

    It's so very true. Thank you for the reminder. I had never understood how the adrenaline burnout occurs (& as one who lived like this for near a decade....). Didn't help the cortisol release had a self-medicating effect on my hormone imbalances (thus making me feel 'normal').

    Nearly 8 years later, it doesn't take much for me to lose energy again. My life is now all about pacing (not just in my stories).

    My post conference resolution is to resume swimming and add it to my writing day. Not only exercise, but relaxation for my mind.

    Thank you.

  3. Hi Alison,

    Very, very good advice. Exercise is so important - and an added benefit I find is that it can become a kind of 'physical meditation' that clears the mind of junk, allowing all that creativity to bubble to the surface.

    I've worked for a long time in a stressful environment, and made the decision earlier this year that enough was enough. I found a new job and took two weeks off in between - and literally crashed and burned. I slept for three days straight.

    So now I'm very focused on keeping in balance. I really try to watch the sugar intake (writer's treats excluded!), go to a group personal training session once a week and run three times a week.

    I took part in this year's Run for the Kids too - it was so much fun! And although I did hurt for a few days afterwards, the buzz you get from exercise, and from knowing you're raising money for charity too, kept me going!


  4. Good on you, Cara for recognising you were in a toxic environment and having the courage to change.

    It does take courage.

    Once you are on a treadmill it is very hard to take the step sideways. In my case I was hurled bodily off it and I am eternally grateful (while remaining bitter and twisted!).

    I was amazed to read that it can take up to 3 months to replenish the seratonin levels. I think that is what it took for me to get back to equilibrium.

  5. Nicky and Elizabeth, thank you for your comments.

    The hardest thing to change is a habit, but sometimes we just have to do it.

    Let's face it, the biggest muscle in our body is the one between our ears!


  6. Great stuff, Alison. Where's a pedal-operated computer when I need one?

  7. I find walking helps stir the creative juices - suddenly plots and characters fall into place, mysteries are solved and everything is at peace in the imaginary world.

    And other story ideas emerge along the way too!

    Now to get it all down in writing! That's the hard part!

  8. Valerie...DH keeps threatening to hook the computer up to an exercise bike. No posture at the computer...that is a whole other blog topic!!!

    Carol...Walking is great and so much better for your knees than running. I am lucky to live somewhere that is both flat and has fabulous views - all conducive to a long thoughtful stroll.